I was a judge at the Death by Chocolate event this last weekend at Exploration Place. To some, it might have sounded like heaven—table after table covered with beautiful, inventive chocolates, cakes, and cookies. To me, it looked like an uphill marathon I hadn’t properly trained for. We had to taste everything, and that meant about a hundred individual sweets. My teeth hurt after the first 10 offerings. I got the sugar shakes after the 30th truffle. My vision blurred by the time we had finished the gauntlet and I had to sit down. By the time I got home I was as ill as I could be.
All right, pizza lovers, fire up your engines! Picasso’s Pizza has opened and their pies are divine. I usually give a new place a couple of months to settle in before I try it out, but all of my social media friends were posting delicious-looking pictures and tweets, so I couldn’t resist. I met my pizza expert—my husband Wayne—for dinner the other day and we were both immediately hooked.
I grew up in Newton, Kansas, in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It goes without saying that there weren’t many fun dining options in our little town. We had a Big Cheese Pizza, a Pizza Hut, a Sonic, The Red Coach Inn, and a Hardee’s. There were a couple of coffee shops and our Woolworth’s had a lunch counter—the old-fashioned kind—but that was torn down and replaced with a thrift store. We had one fancy restaurant, the Old Mill, which featured the first salad bar I had ever seen and served adult beverages, a rarity in our dry county.
I am obsessed with kimchi. I think about the earthy, fermented, spicy pickle all the time. I know that some people find kimchi’s deep funkiness repellent, but I love it. Kimchi is one of the most common Korean condiments and is made with vegetables, chili pepper flakes, garlic, ginger and salt. It is lightly fermented, sort of like sauerkraut, and then eaten as a side dish or used as an ingredient in Korean cooking. The kimchi most of us are familiar with is made with Napa cabbage.
Food trucks have always seemed like a good idea to me. You have a cute truck, cook a few interesting specials, and park where the business seems best. Everyone throngs to you when you tweet the daily menu and you work when you feel like it. Trucks have fewer of the brick-and-mortar problems of a real restaurant at a fraction of the cost. I even thought of doing a soup truck at one time, until I was reminded by my best friend that I don’t like to drive, I don’t like small spaces, and I cannot survive without air conditioning. The fantasy of a food truck is nothing like the reality of one.
If you want spicy, complex, and savory cuisine, Indian food will fit the bill perfectly. It can be chili-hot or creamy and mild, meaty or completely vegan, and diverse enough for even the most jaded palate to enjoy. I love the diversity of Indian cuisine, from spice-coated tandoori oven chicken to crispy fried samosas. One can spend a lifetime discovering its nuances.
About four years ago, my friend Michael Carmody sent me a text: “Hot homemade doughnuts and coffee, my house, right now.” Of course, I dropped everything and rushed over. He had made a lovely batch of buttermilk doughnuts with cinnamon sugar, hot and delicious, and fresh coffee to wash them down. Several other friends had gathered to try them and they were gone in minutes. Over the course of the next year, Michael made thousands of test doughnuts to share with his friends, perfecting his recipes and creating an underground doughnut sensation.
I have been very sad this week. Two of my first and best mentors have died. Rich Vliet and Norma Sowell have been friends, teachers and touchstones for me from the very beginning of my professional culinary career. Both were incredibly supportive, delightful, determined people with vision. Both impressed me deeply and I’m going to miss them so much.
I’m sure you all have heard the phrase, “The Cobbler’s children have no shoes.” Sadly for my family, the chef’s children have no food. In the house, that is. I haven’t been to the grocery store in weeks. Something has died in my refrigerator, which is an entire ecosystem I am only marginally in charge of. It’s like Biosphere 2 in there. Our pantry looks like a tornado hit the Asian market and left ravaged bags of rice noodles and shiitake mushrooms scattered everywhere. I just have not had time to cook at home lately.
I devour books. When I find one I love I’ll read it cover to cover, as fast as I can, and all other activities pale in comparison. I have a particular passion for food essays that started when I was a little girl. I would read about exotic places and food and imagine myself eating it, and then beg my mother to make whatever it was I was reading about. She was busy, though, so she let me try to cook some of it myself.